Yesterday the Irish Government made a truly extraordinary announcement: under plans they propose to put into legislation, indoor hospitality will return in Ireland on July 26th. But only for those who have been fully vaccinated.
If you are vaccinated, like me, then you will be able to sit indoors in a restaurant or a pub. If you are unvaccinated, like, say, most young people, then you will have to sit outside and look in through the windows, so long as you do not get too close.
Because this is overt and obvious discrimination on the grounds of private medical information, it requires the Dáil to pass new legislation. It will require those of us who have been vaccinated to prove it, in theory. It will turn restauranteurs and publicans into an arm of the state, checking people’s status at the door. Many of them, of course, in that old Irish way, will tell the Government that they are happy to do it, stick a sign up on their doors saying, “vaccinated only”, and then not bother to ask any questions.
Like almost every terrible idea ever conceived, this has been born in a fit of panic. The Government and those in it are not stupid. They know, just as everybody else knows, that Ireland is an outlier. They can see, just as everybody else can see, tens of thousands at Wembley while Ireland remains shuttered. They can sense mounting frustration with NPHET. They can see in the exchequer figures the ongoing damage to the economy. In their own ham-fisted way, this is an attempt to try and get the economy moving again, and a bit of normality back, without committing the cardinal sin of breaking openly with NPHET.
The solution, then, somebody with a brainwave decided, was to simply comply to the letter with NPHET advice: If NPHET thinks vaccinated people mingling is fine, then the Government should allow just that to happen. The problem, of course, is that this necessarily entails discrimination against the unvaccinated. On balance, though, somebody has convincingly argued, you cannot make an omlette without breaking a few eggs.
You can see, then, why they went for this plan. Let us be clear about one thing: It will not be massively unpopular. There will be no mass public revolt. Half of us are vaccinated already, and about 40% more probably assume that they will be vaccinated quickly. And in very few societies throughout history have discriminatory laws found mass opposition from the people on the right side of those laws.
But a law being tolerated, or even, perhaps, in some circles, popular, does not make it sensible, just, or workable.
For one thing, as alluded to above: For such a law to work perfectly, we would have to massively expand the surveillance state. The Government is entirely reliant, under this proposal, on business owners becoming voluntary policemen. The country is not short of “cute hoors” who will nod and pledge their allegiance to the new law on paper, and ignore it, functionally, in practice. Then again, perhaps some in Government are counting on exactly that happening.
The technology to effectively log vaccination status and ensure compliance simply does not exist. Think about how this would have to work in practice: there are really two options. There is a high-tech option, which involves computerised logging of patrons when they arrive at the door of a venue. That cannot be put in place, because first, the tech does not exist, and second, the amount of information that would have to be collected (name, PPS number, address, vaccination record, age, and so on) would breach any number of data protection and sharing laws.
The low tech option, by contrast, is to simply rely on bars and restaurants to develop their own system. Those who are more lax will, thanks to the simple law of supply and demand, benefit much more than those who assiduously enforce Government policy. The plan is not workable.
But even if it were workable, it would still be gravely immoral. This, after all, is a proposal to discriminate against people on the basis of their health and their private medical decisions, and for making a decision not to get vaccinated which is, and has always been, their absolute right. It does not only discriminate against those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not take a vaccine. It also discriminates on the basis of Government policy: Those who were once most at risk of covid can now eat in a restaurant, but the younger people, who made so many sacrifices despite the low risk to themselves, remain excluded.
In a sane, or just, world, this proposal would have tens of thousands on the street opposing the Government. But we do not live in such a world, so it will probably be applauded.